Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Here's Adam Gopnik, writing about the torture report for The New Yorker:
... there is the truth that the C.I.A. interrogators were, for the most part, following orders and doing what they had been told they were authorized to do; to make them the prime villains is to clear the democratically elected politicians who allowed this to happen -- and, more important, to clear the democracy that elected those politicians. We are all implicated, not just those who drowned and froze and tormented prisoners. If blame is to be had, it must not move only upward, to the bosses; it must move outward, to those who chose the top men and to the many who explicitly endorsed their reading of the "war on terror" and the threat of terrorism.
Look, I've acknowledged that the public is disturbingly tolerant of torture, as measured by public opinion polls. But how are all of us responsible for the initiation of a program concocted early in the first term of a president we hadn't really elected, and carried on in secret for years after that? Even once the torture was revealed, its brutality was downplayed, and initially blamed on "a few bad apples"; while it's a disgrace that Americans think the torture wasn't that bad, we were encouraged to think that "we don't torture," the implication being that the awful treatment we were hearing about wasn't that awful.

Yes, we accepted the drift over the line to barbarism -- but we weren't involved in the decision to cross that line. That decision was made above our pay grade. We weren't consulted.

Gopnik adds:
Searching for ultimate responsibility, we look at individuals: at Dick Cheney ... and at former President George W. Bush.... But we need to look also at ourselves. We need to look at the climate of fear that all but a few created and participated in after 9/11. That climate of fear made the imminent threat of more and worse terror attacks seem plausible, even highly likely. It was, in part, the natural and inevitable consequence of an atrocity that took so many lives so quickly and so unexpectedly. If that could happen, what couldn't? But it was also engineered, crafted, and engaged in by many who knew better, or should have.
But was the climate of fear a necessary precondition for torture? The Bushies did what they wanted. They pursued their policy goals even when they didn't think they had the public's consent -- remember that just after a midterm blowout in 2006, an election that was clearly a referendum on an unpopular war, Bush announced the surge. He didn't care. The Bush administration manufactured consent; it didn't hold back until it had consent. And if it seemed uncertain that consent would be forthcoming, the administration proceeded in secret.

So yes, we deserve blame for shrugging the torture program off once we knew about it. But the fact that America crossed the torture line in the first place wasn't our fault.


Kevin Hayden said...

I don't recall shrugging it off. I'm appalled and still appalled. It set a standard comparable to past practices by some of history's worst dictators.

I know the majority shrugged it off, but when the first reports of torture emerged from Abu Ghraib, I'm pretty sure the majority was anti-torture in polling.

The majority, though, often feels powerless in efforts to change foreign policy and military decisions, so that had a corrosive factor on our collective will.

It doesn't change the main point you made, though: those who decided to permit torture deserve all the blame. As near as I can recall, that would include Addison, Yoo, Gonzalez, Feith, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush, at least.

And as an added note, a number of specific tortures weren't known to the majority of Americans until yesterday, so the notion that blame can be spread around is just a way of playing CYA.

mlbxxxxxx said...

Gopnik should speak for himself.

Chai T. Ch'uan said...

If I'm to share the blame, they'll at least have to tell me what EIT technique #12 was.

Danp said...

We may blame people for absorbing that culture of fear, but it was certainly pushed by politicians and the media in general. Even then we were lied to. When Michael Hayden says, "It was the will of the American people," he ignors the role he played in duping them first.

Victor said...

Can he not include those of us who organized and/or attended protests against the wars, occupations, and torture?

Unsalted Sinner said...

If everyone's responsible, then no one is responsible. Which is obviously very convenient for some people.